By the time a person is sent to civil jail for non-payment of debt, the owed party will have tried all means to recover their money without success.
Key among those means is attaching the debtor’s movable or immovable property.
And so, when former Youth Enterprise Fund chairman Gor Semelang’o was sent to jail for 30 days on Wednesday due to a Sh3.6 million debt he owed Nairobi-based lawyer George Miyare since December 2016, the irony was palpable.
That a man who epitomises flamboyance could be sent to the dank cells of Industrial Area Prison was a paradox: Is the flashy former member of the Vijana na Kibaki group broke or he just refused to pay up?
Mr Semelang’o is a man of means, at least from what he has been showing the public. His Facebook page is an anthology of life in all its glitter, with each photo he uploads attempting to ooze more class than the last.
This is a man who has been spotted driving a Range Rover Sport with a Prado as a chase car, usually moving around in the company of bodyguards.
This is a man who has said he is into fuel, publishing, modelling and other businesses. He told Nairobi News in 2014 that he made his first Sh1 million at 25.
Mr Semelang’o is a man who often wears two watches said to be worth hundreds of thousands of shillings “because time is money, and I take my time very seriously” as he told a local publication last year.
“I have businesses in New York and my two watches are set in different time zones,” he added.
One of his favourite quotes is: “The easiest way to remain poor is to pretend that you are rich.”
When he spoke with NTV in August 2018, where he was asked to expound on that quote, he gave every impression that he has not been faking it.
“In order to be comfortable in life, you’ve got to be rich. But then you need money because then you can eat what you want to eat, when you want to eat it, with whom you want to eat it.”
As he said that, he sounded like a man swimming in cash, who will have no qualms forking out Sh3.6 million to a lawyer who has helped him prosecute a case in court.
But half a year later, a warrant of arrest was issued against him for failing to turn up for the case about the monies he owes. He went to court on Wednesday where he faced a judge who could hear none of his explanations.
A quote Mr Semelang’o posted on Facebook on June 12 alongside a photo read: “I either win or learn. I learnt a lot. I never lose. God’s timing is the best!”
At the Industrial Area Prison, he must be learning a lot. And if a jail term could be a way of paying debts, he might have enjoyed the rare act of benevolence from the advocate because your creditor pays for your expenses to be in civil jail.
However, according to lawyer Kimandu Gichohi, civil jail is only a pressure mechanism that never erases indebtedness.
That is why, Mr Kimadu explains, lawyers typically apply for a debtor to be jailed for one month at a time and not the maximum six months.
“If he comes out and doesn’t pay, he can go back,” explains the lawyer.
For a man whose life has opulence written all over it, Mr Semelang’o must be hoping this is the last time he cools his heels in jail.
Should he mix with other inmates, he has ample time to regale them with tales from the highest of places.
The inmates will have a chance to rub shoulders with a man who received a Head of State Commendation in 2012, a few months before the then President Mwai Kibaki appointed him to lead the youth fund.
Perhaps that will give them a picture of what happens to individuals in power when regimes change. He was flying high in the era of President Kibaki but now he is a caged man. Of note is how he left the helm of the fund when Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru was in charge as the Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary.
“Of what use is running if you’re running in the wrong direction?” says a quote Mr Semelang’o posted on Facebook on July 2.
In jail, he might have a chance to consider the many times he has run, like the Mathare by-election of 2014.
After the MP seat was declared vacant due to an election petition, he attempted to run for the seat but was not cleared to vie because the polls agency found that he was a public officer by the time the seat fell vacant.
In 2015, he contested to be the Football Kenya Federation president but fell short despite mounting a spirited campaign. The current boss, Nick Mwendwa, carried the day.
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